August 14, 2015 Boundary Spur Road, Alaska

Birth of a Rainbow
Birth of a Rainbow

An Eventful Morning

I was having my morning coffee, relaxing in my recliner around 5:30 this morning …

Caribou at campsite
Early Morning Visitors

when I saw a small band of caribou pop up out of the brush on the perimeter of my pulloff campsite and head towards my motorhome.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Bull Caribou Just Passing Through
Bull Caribou Just Passing Through

I jumped up and grabbed the camera and shot a couple shots through the windshield as they skirted by and headed to cross the highway.

Caribou From Campsite
Caribou From Campsite
Caribou on the Boundary Spur Road
Caribou on the Boundary Spur Road
Caribou on the Boundary Spur Road
Caribou on the Boundary Spur Road

Unfortunately, I just wasn’t prepared for this intrusion and it took me a few precious seconds to find the camera and fire off some shots. But with not a whole lot of light to work with and my camera set to what I was doing last night, I didn’t get anything terribly good. Still, it was kind of a thrill to see them up close like this.

Disaster Strikes!

When I let the dogs out after my caribou run in, I noticed my pasenger side outside dually appered to be going flat. I have never had a flat on this motorhome and the Michelin tires are only two years old, so this was totally unexpected and could not possibly have happened at a worst place, seventy-five miles from Dawson City and a hundred miles from Tok. This was going to be expensive!

I drove nine miles to the Border Station and the two pleasant and very helpful women manning the station graciously allowed me to use the phone to call Good Sam Roadside Assistance, a service I have carried and paid for, but never had to use, for the past twenty two years.

Good Sam Roadside Assistance ??????

Twelve minutes into my first call, I was hung up on by an obviously flustered young woman who had no idea of what she was doing, trying to explain to me that I was not covered in Alaska, which, of course, is not true. My second call didn’t fare much better as this woman could not determine exactly where I was located despite my explaining very carefully exactly where this Border Station was. She claimed that Google Maps and everything else she was referring to in an attempt to locate me, did not show a Boundary Spur Road, the Border Station, nor any town in the Yukon called Dawson City. I found that a little hard to fathom. After thirty-six minutes with her, it became obvious that I was not getting anywhere. She never did figure out where I was. This was starting to get frustrating.

A third call fared little better although by now the Border Station folks gave me some GPS coordinates for our location and finally Good Sam Roadside Assistance had me located and after thirty minutes on the line with them, I was told they would make calls and try to get me some help.

Not having cell service up here greatly harmed my chances for help from this outfit, because after every call they wanted me to give them a call back number so they could contact me with further information on my rescue situation. But I was using a government satellite ( I assume ) phone and could’nt provide them with a callback number, instead having to tell them I would call back to them at a time they determined would be sufficient for them to make arrangements for my service call. This proved to make things make things very difficult, for when I called back, I just got the next available operator, not the one I was previously dealing with, and they explained to me that their operators do not have designated extentions and therefore can not be contacted by name when I called back. As a result, every time I called I basically had to start all over again, just incredibly frustrating, what a screwed up operation.

My fourth call lasted another fifty-two minutes with holds of fifteen and twenty minutes and ended with me finally all but giving up and telling this operator ( Galen ) that I was now going to just drive my car back to Chicken and see if I could find some help myself, and if not, that tomorrow I would drive to Dawson City and look there. At this time Good Sam Roadside Assistance was telling me that they could find no one who would agree to come up here on a flat tire service call. I told Galen to keep looking and I would check back in with him first thing tomorrow to see if they came up with anything or if I had found something on my trip back to Chicken.

So I hopped in the car and drove the forty-five miles back to Chicken …

Wrecked Motorhome
A Scary Sight

… passing this terrifying sight on the way. It is about five hundred feet straight down to the river where this rig overturned, saved only by some small aspens on the side of the road. I was told later that the lone woman and her dog were safe and not injured. If I can’t get a flat tire fixed up here, how is this poor person going to have this wreck salvaged?

Look Out For Caribou
Look Out For Caribou

Had to dodge this caribou that couldn’t make up it’s mind just which way it wanted to go to get out of my way.

In Chicken, I was told there was no one there that could possibly help and that my only hope was Williard’s in Tok.

View From the Top of the World
View From the Top of the World
View From the Top of the World
View From the Top of the World

On my way home I stopped and got a couple of threatening sky shots …

Interesting Rock
Interesting Rock

…and found this interesting rock in roadside quarry I stopped to check out.

So I am getting a little worried about just when and how I am going to be able to get back on the road again … and my faith in Good Sam’s Roadside Assistance has been completely shattered, I just don’t see them being competent enough to actually come to my rescue. Stay tuned!

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August 11-12, 2015 Taylor Highway to Boundary Spur Road, Alaska

Aug 11 Taylor Highway

I left the Pioneer Park around 10 AM and filled up the motorhome at the Tesora gas station on the way out to the highway. Route 2 from Fairbanks south to Tok runs through some very ordinary, slightly boring terrain, but does look like it probably harbors a large moose population. I did see several more cows, some with calves ( boy, have they gotten larger than the first little ones I saw almost three months ago ), some without, but yet again saw zero bulls!

Filled up with gas again in Tok and then proceeded north and east on Route 5, the Taylor Highway, heading to Chicken and then on to Dawson City in the Yukon.

Overnight Campsite on the Taylor Highway
Overnight Campsite on the Taylor Highway

I stopped for the night somewhere around MM10 on the Taylor Highway at a large paved, flat, double ended pulloff where there was already one small RV parked.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Aug 12 Taylor Highway to Boundary Spur Road MM4.5

Overnight Campsite on the Taylor Highway
Overnight Campsite on the Taylor Highway

After a good night’s sleep at my roadside pulloff on the Taylor Highway, I awoke to bright skies, a welcome change, and headed north.

Taylor Highway Heading North of Tok
Taylor Highway Heading North of Tok

The Taylor Highway is a fairly good paved two lane road that was for the most part, in pretty good shape. There were sections where you want to watch your speed as it can get a little rough. The road turns to gravel, still fairly well maintained, a little short of the tiny hamlet of Chicken. I passed this little place by and continued on to the intersection with the Boundary Spur Road, taking this newly paved two lane road about 4.5 miles east where I pulled off the road to spend the night.

View from Taylor Highway Between Chicken and the Border
View from Taylor Highway Between Chicken and the Border

The gravel road from Chicken to the intersection with the Boundary Spur Road does get a little narrow here and there and does have some wash boarded sections, but for the most part is still a relatively easy road to navigate in a motorhome. There are some sections with steep dropoffs, ( as in the edge of the road image above ) and no guardrails, that could make some folks a little sqeamish. I drove it on a dry day, so don’t know if the surface could get a little slick and muddy with rain, it looks like that may be the case.

Caribou
Caribou
Caribou
Caribou

Only three miles in on the Boundary Spur Road, I spotted a large group of caribou moving along the hillside, not far above the road.

Caribou Bulls Grazing the Hillside
Caribou Bulls Grazing the Hillside
Caribou Bulls Grazing the Hillside
Caribou Bulls Grazing the Hillside

These guys move continuously, with their heads down, foraging, but seemingly never actually stopping in one spot to graze, kind of their version of walk and talk, although I guess that would be walk and eat.

Boundary Spur Road Boondocking Campsite
Boundary Spur Road Boondocking Campsite

This is where I set up camp for the night, a pulloff area around MM 4.5 on the Boundary Spur Road, where it was wide enough for me to turn around in without unhooking the toad. No Verizon signal or over the air TV reception here, but pretty nice views to the south.

View From the Road to Eagle

View From the Road to Eagle
View From the Road to Eagle

Quick Side Trip Down Memory Lane to Eagle

After setting up, I unhooked the Prius and took the sixty five mile drive north to Eagle to see how much had changed there since my last visit when I was stranded there with a bad wheel bearing back in 1993.

Views along the way were quite spectacular in spots.

Eagle House
Seen Better Days

A few different dwellings here …

Eagle Birdhouses
Eagle Birdhouses

along with some great views of the Yukon River.

View Down the Yukon River From Eagle
View Down the Yukon River From Eagle
View Up the Yukon River From Eagle
View Up the Yukon River From Eagle
View Down the Yukon River From Eagle
View Down the Yukon River From Eagle

Unfortunately, those dark skies to the left in the image above opened up on me just as I arrived in Eagle so I don’t have much to show of this rather neat, in a primitive way, little town. Worth exploring if you have the time.

View From the Road to Eagle
View From the Road to Eagle

The gravel road up to Eagle was in pretty decent shape, again, narrow in some sections and a little rough here and there. Some nice scenery and you do drive by some interesting stream gold mining operations on the way in.

View from the Road to Eagle
View from the Road to Eagle

By the time I got back to my boondocking site, I had escaped the rain and was treated to some dramatic landscapes, with the sun popping through glorious clouds and highlighting the top of the world views.

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Aug 6-10 Five Nights in Fairbanks

Sandhill Cranes at Creamer's Field
Sandhill Cranes at Creamer’s Field

 Five Nights in Fairbanks

Bad start to the day when I got up this morning and found the gas side of the refrigerator was not working. Quickly moved out of the Walmart camping area and away from the other campers so I could start up my generator and swap the frig over to electric to try and save my food. Since I also have a minor problem with my hydraulic jacks not retracting enough to shut off the warning lights on the dash, and also have to have some grease pumped into my one tow dolly wheel bearing protector I just replaced, I searched the internet for an RV repair facility in Fairbanks and came up with one located not far from me on Peger Avenue. I drove over and they agreed to take me in on a wait and see basis, so I unloaded the Prius and took off to explore the area.

I drove out to LARS and though the chance to see musk oxen does appeal to me, to see them in a manicured pasture does not.

I also checked out the Creamer Fields and did see a few sandhill cranes and Canada Geese there. Drove around the Farmers Loop Road and then into downtown Fairbanks to just poke aroud a little. Took a drive out towards the Chena Hot Springs in hopes of maybe finding some moose, but came up empty. Explored the area around the airport and along the river, but never really found anything worth photographing.

Checked back in on my motorhome late in the afternoon and was glad to find they had squeezed me in and worked on all three problems. Unfortunately, the fixes didn’t ultimately didn’t amount to much, they decided my jack problem was most likely just weak retraction springs and they couldn’t replace them, fixed the refrigerator problem by replacing a weak thermo coupling ( the gas portion stopped working again the next day ), and they repacked both wheel bearings of the tow dolly, even though I only asked them to hit the grease fitting on the one wheel I had relaced the grease spindle on earlier ( by repacking both permanently sealed bearings, they voided my five year warranty on those bearing protectors ). For this work, they charged me $258, and about all I got out of it was a voided warranty. The only reviews for this place online were not too terribly favorable, but the reviews for the only other place in town were even worse. So what do you do?

I drove back up Peger Avenue and paid for two nights at the Pioneer Park Parking Lot. This is a paved parking lot for the Pioneer Park Village and the adjacent Alaska Salmon Bake eatery. For $12 a night you get a relatively safe and convenient spot to explore the Fairbanks area from. No utilities, but there is a strong Verizon signal here as well as reception of several over the air TV stations. Rather heavy traffic in the parking lot until about 10 PM each night, but then it quiets down, but there still is a considrable amount of street noise from the two main roads that run along the edge of Pioneer Park.

On Sunday I had to get out the Honda generator to recharge the house batteries after a couple of cloudy days. The starter cord snapped just after the unit started up. Initially I figured I could probably relace this myself and get on my way to Dawson City in the Yukon, but then I found that you have to essentially dismantle the entire generator just to get at the starter rope spool, something I didn’t wish to tackle. So I brought the generator to Woodleys here in Fairbanks and they said they could get it fixed for me in twenty four hours. So, two more nights at the Pioneer Park, and a chance to begin to get caught up with my image processing and blog posts from Denali, then on up the Taylor Highway towards the Yukon..

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Aug 4-6, 2015 Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali Grizzly on the Move
Denali Grizzly on the Move

Tuesday

After Monday’s bus ride with surly Mike, even though the weather was again perfect for seeing Mount McKinley, I decided I was ” bused out ” and stayed at camp all day. The four straight days of nine hour bus rides can really start to take a toll on an old body like mine. These buses were designed for smaller, younger bodies, and even then only for hour or less trips to school and back, not for nine hour rides on bumpy gravel roads. Plus, being sort of a hermit, four days of being crammed into a metal tube with thiry something other folks just plain makes me feel very uncomfortable.

Plus the nice warm weather means there once again would probably be no wildlife to see and again arriving at McKinley in the harsh noon day light would mean I wasn’t going to get any better images of the mountain than what I already had.

Wednesday

So on Wednesday morning I was up and out to once again catch the first bus out, to Wonder Lake. As it pulled up, it once again appeared to be close to full, and when the door opened and it was ” Surly Mike ” driving, I decided I could wait for the second bus through and waved him on.

The next bus out was one of the larger, snub nosed type that just happened to have much more comfortable seats. Also, this one had a very personable driver by the name of Rex, a pleasant and vast improvement over Mike. Although this type of bus carries over forty passengers, there was only one window seat open and when I slid in, it quickly became apparent why, it was a seat over the wheel well so there was no room for your legs, unless you happened to be about four feet tall and under the age of eight. How an adult could share this type of seat with another adult is completely beyond my comprehension, so if another two or three passengers were to get on, this would become quite interesting/uncomfortable. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

Although we didn’t have the clear blue skies of Monday, the temps were still quite warm and as a result, we really saw nothing in the way of wildlife on our trip out to Eielson. The moutain was covered in clouds today, so no mountain shots either.

This bus did not continue on for the three hour trip out to Wonder Lake and back, but turned around at the Eielson Visitor’s Center, and that definitely worked for me today.

Back at the campground a wicked thunderstorm hit in late afternoon with some of the most ear splitting cracks of thunder I have ever heard. Torrents of rain from this storm caused a mudslide that blocked the Park Road buses for hours late in the afternoon, so glad I got back to the campground early today.

Thursday

A new bus schedule went into effect today, so the first early bus I had been taking, turns out was eliminated. So the new first bus out left it’s starting point at a slightly more reasonable hour for most normal folks, and as a result, was completely full when it reached the Teklanika Campground. I decided I could wait another half hour for the next bus, so no big deal. That bus also was completely full.

So, that was enough of this rather miserable bus riding experience for me, and even though I still had paid camping reservations left here for another six nights, I decided to pack it in and leave Denali National Park. I packed up and drove back out to the Riley Campground dump station and dropped my trash, dumped my tanks, filled with water, and got caught up with emails, then exited the Park and headed north on the Parks Highway to Fairbanks.

Denali Grizzly Feeding
Denali Grizzly Grazing

Leaving Denali and On to Fairbanks

I arrived at the Fairbanks Walmart around 4 PM and set up camp figuring I could unload the Prius and explore the area a little to figure out where to stay. This Walmart had a LOT of folks camped here, unfortunately some of them looked very much like homeless people camped long term in their beat up old vans, with dogs tied to the door handles and trash strewn around their rigs. Not a good sign, and most likely to mean a ban on overnighting here in the future.

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